Lawsuit targets opioid makers
Sebastian County man seeks class action for addicted in state
FAYETTEVILLE — A Sebastian County man who says he became addicted to painkillers sued drug manufacturers Thursday, seeking millions in damages.
The suit seeks to be declared a class action on behalf of all Arkansans suffering from opioid addiction. It seeks unspecified damages beyond $5 million, the minimum threshold of damages for this type of suit, according to court documents. The suit also seeks attorneys’ fees and costs.
Michael Ray Lewis was first prescribed opioids in 2005 and was subsequently treated for addiction related to his prescriptions, the suit says. Lewis filed suit in U.S. District Court in Fayetteville
against Purdue Pharma, a limited partnership and prescription drug company based in New York, N.Y., and other manufacturers of opioids.
Two phone calls and an email to Pharma press spokesmen weren’t returned Friday afternoon. Calls to Lewis’ attorneys were also not returned.
Oklahoma’s attorney general also filed suit Friday against opioid manufacturers, also making allegations of deceptive marketing campaigns fueling an epidemic of drug abuse. This follows similar lawsuits by Missouri, Ohio and Mississippi. In addition, the Cherokee Nation filed suit in April.
A report on 2015 levels of opioid addiction across the United States by Blue Cross Blue Shield found the most patients filling prescriptions for opioids as a segment of the overall population to be in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Slightly lower rates were found in Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, West Virginia and Indiana.
The Trump administration has called the opioid epidemic a top priority, and the president has named his former adviser, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, to head a commission investigating the matter. In a June meeting, experts said Medicaid expansion — a key target of the GOP’s proposed health care revision— is key to the delivery of effective addiction treatment.
Christie’s panel was expected to provide draft recommendations this week. But it has postponed further meetings and a release of recommendations.
Before the 1990s, opioids were used only to treat shortterm acute pain or for end-oflife care, the Arkansas lawsuit claims.
“By the late 1990s, however, and continuing today, each defendant began a marketing scheme designed to persuade doctors and patients that opioids can and should be used for chronic pain, a far broader group of patients much more likely to become addicted and suffer other adverse effects from long-term use of opioids,” the suit claims.
Those marketing campaigns downplayed the risks of opioids, including addiction, according to the suit. The companies’ activities included “funding, assisting, directing and encouraging seemingly neutral and credible professional societies and patient advocacy groups” to mask those risks, the suit alleges.
“Since 2012, Arkansas has ranked in the top 10 among all states for the number of prescribed opioids” per person, the suit says, citing a study by the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, a nonprofit group based in Little Rock. “By 2016, the total number of opioid doses prescribed to Arkansas patients had soared to 109 million — enough to supply every man, woman and child in the state with 38 pills each.”
Those figures are for legally prescribed drugs, the suit says. Illegal consumption is both in addition to that and unaccounted for, the suit says. The available figures cited in the suit for legal consumption show 1.7 million opioid prescriptions issued in a state with a population of just under 3 million.
“Efforts by physicians to reverse course for a chronic pain patient with long term dependence on opioids are often thwarted by a secondary criminal market,” the suit claims. That criminal market offers heroin as a substitute, the suit claims.
Besides Purdue Pharma, the suit names: Cephalon Inc. of Frazer, Penn., and its parent company, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Titusville, N.J.; Endo Health Solutions Inc. of Malvern, Penn.; and Actavis Pharma Inc. of Parsippany, N.J.
Sales representatives from these companies lobbied individual doctors and medical staff in their offices to give, in detail, the supposed benefits of opioids for chronic pain, according to the suit.
“In 2014 alone, defendants spent $168 million in detailing branded opioids to doctors” throughout the United States, the suit says. “This amount is twice as much as defendants spent on detailing in 2000.” Of that, $108 million was spent by Purdue, according to the suit.
The companies also used supposedly neutral, scientific third-party groups to make claims about the benefits and lack of risks of opioids they didn’t claim in the companies’ own advertisements, which are reviewed by the federal Food and Drug Administration for accuracy, the suit says.
Purdue paid $231,000 over five years to 11 doctors and other experts that promoted opioid use for chronic pain, as found in a case brought by the attorney general for New York, according to the lawsuit.